Flagship: Unchartered waters (but not for long)


Over the past decade or so superyacht charter has begun to separate from tradition. A growing trend of exploration and philanthropic work has led to the birth of a fleet of explorer and research yachts. Expedition charters aside, the Covid-19 pandemic has created what has been called “insular tourism”, as travel restrictions force clients to charter domestically or look to completely new destinations, sometimes rarely chartered in before.

Experts in expedition yachting such as Ben Lyons, CEO, EYOS Expeditions, told Superyacht Investor there has been an undeniable growth over the past 10 years in the sector. Owners and charterers alike are realising they can use their yachts as platforms to explore the most remote regions in the world and that the yachting world does not end in the Caribbean or Mediterranean.

“Of course, those destinations are still hugely popular and by far the majority of the yachting industry. But looking further over the horizon, remote destinations are now much more common than10 years ago,” added Lyons.

Covid-19 has only accelerated this trend in Lyons’ opinion. Clients are looking to yachts as safe havens away from urban areas. So, while with travel restrictions, there hasn’t been a huge increase in true expedition yacht charters in 2020, “the idea of yachts as remote havens has taken hold and I think we will only continue to see charterers look more and more for expedition destinations to sail to”.

Yachts as safe havens

Traditionally, as Lyons mentioned, we all know the top spots for yacht charter. Even a decade ago it would have been almost impossible to picture from your lounger soaking up the Riviera sun that the polar regions could be “exploding” in popularity as a charter destination. Surprises come in all temperatures and climates.

Both polar destinations are growing in popularity and EYOS is seeing more and more yachts – owners and charter clients – enquiring about what an expedition to these regions entails, said Lyons.

“Owners and charterers are hearing about their friends visiting and the amazing experiences they had and so then they want to go. What was an oddity almost 10 years ago – a yacht in Antarctica – is now increasingly common. More and more yachts that are being built have additional capability designed in from the start – the best example of this, of course, is Damen’s SeaXplorer range. Owners are seeing what other yachts can do, and they want the same ‘no compromises’ experience as well.”

Virtual or otherwise it is hard to not hear mention of new explorer vessels hitting the market at any yacht show you may visit. Lyons told SYI the trend for explorer yachts is not just continuing but growing rapidly. Owners can see decent charter revenue on more remote itineraries and yachts with helicopters and submersibles are becoming increasingly common.

Submersibles are increasingly common

Other examples include: Rosetti Superyachts’ 85m expedition supply vessel created in collaboration with Rolls-Royce Marine and designer Tommaso Spadolini and London-based architect Vitruvius’ range of expedition yachts. The range includes six motoryachts between 45m and 50m and a 55m sailing yacht designed by architect, Philippe Briand.

Captain Iain Flockhart warns of making hasty decisions when it comes to explorer vessels. The captain told SYI that a 65m-plus yacht he was once involved in was billed by its owner as being an expedition yacht. “However, it had not a single feature that I would consider contributed meaningfully towards her being categorised in this way when compared to other yachts of her size.”

Mistakes at the design stage may well lead to inefficient operation when the vessel is complete thereby decreasing the chances of charter. Possibly bringing safety into question too.

According to Neal Bateman, head of yacht projects, Cookson Adventures, explorer yachts like La Datcha and Ragnar confirm the growing popularity of expedition yachting. On top of that Bateman is starting to see significant interest in research capable yachts such as OceanX and REV. These yachts have onboard facilities to allow for scientific and conservation research whilst also providing a “luxury experience” to her guests.

Scientific and conservation research

“This has huge benefits for both the researchers and the clients. The researchers are provided with the platform (and often funding) to do their work whilst the yacht owner gains first-hand experience, access and insight into some incredible projects,” added Bateman.

Change over the past decade has been an easy one to measure, as Cookson Adventures was founded a little over a decade ago. In that time, the transformation of what charterers and owners have come to expect on their yachting escapes is “monumental” Bateman told SYI. “They’ve turned into serious platforms for adventure, kitted out with helicopters, submersibles and all the knowledge onboard you can imagine. They’re taking us further than ever before.”

In the past year alone, Cookson’s clients have contributed to several world first discoveries as part of their adventures, such as facilitating the scientific discovery of a new type of killer whale and using a submersible to map the seabed in the South Pacific.

“The world has had a much-needed breather, so it would be a shame for that to go to waste. That’s why we’ve seen lots of client interest for conservation-centric adventures this year, especially the insanely bio-rich Costa Rica, both for onboard a yacht or while staying at an eco-camp,” said Bateman.

Tag hammerhead sharks

One of which is for a shark tagging experience alongside marine biologists. They will help tag hammerhead sharks to gather crucial information about their behaviour. There’s even an option for them to “adopt” a shark to receive reports of its travels and growth over its lifetime.

Although some trips had to be moved from last year to this, in terms of client interest, there’s no slowing down, and Bateman doesn’t think developments in the industry have either. “This downtime has given us all a moment to go back to the drawing board and carefully consider our next move. Clients who have always wanted to visit these amazing destinations are now planning their expeditions with us.

“We’ve also seen a rise of client requests from people who were never on our radar before. That shows us the appetite is there and people are excited to travel when they’re allowed.”

The change over the past decade has been beyond what many predicted. It will be interesting to see in another 10 years how far we have come again. With growth in some areas of the sector despite a global pandemic, once the threat from Covid-19 has been nullified, charter looks set to break ever further from tradition.

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